Maker Faire

The maker faire movement comes to Madison

Working out of his Madison garage, Isaiah Schroeder crafts functional — and markedly beautiful — knives ordered by chefs from around the world.

He calls himself a knife forger.

And a maker.

Schroeder will be among some 75 Madison makers featured in the first Madison Mini Maker Faire on May 14 at Monona Terrace, the Wisconsin State Journal  reported.

People who work with their hands, turning ideas into things — or good ideas into better ideas — love sharing what they love to do. The range is wide, from metal workers and glass blowers to robot builders, yarn spinners and even the creator of a giant Gameboy.

And because makers don’t just show — they do — most on hand at the fair will be demonstrating their craft in real time.

Schroeder will set up his portable blacksmithing table, outfitted with a small, torch-fueled forge and an anvil made from railroad track. He plans to show how to turn a worn-out metal file into a useful steak knife with an elegantly curved handle.

“File steel is really good hard steel, so it can be heat-treated hard and made into a good knife,” said Schroeder, whose more sophisticated handmade knives sell for up to $600.

Do-it-yourself workers like Schroeder will be featured at the Madison Mini Maker Faire both inside and outside Monona Terrace. Exhibits will spill out on to Martin Luther King Boulevard.

“We’ll have some of the messier stuff out there — iron forging, maybe some vehicles,” said Monona Terrace spokeswoman Fran Puleo. “That’s a Farmer’s Market Saturday, so obviously we’re hoping people will get engaged on MLK, and will want to come and check everything else that’s going on inside.”

Admission to the outdoor demonstrations is free. Tickets to the indoor faire cost $10; $5 for ages 5–11; free for under age 4.

In an unusual twist, the pre-registered makers pay nothing for a demonstration booth. They pay a $100 vendor fee only if they plan to sell their wares.

The Madison Mini Maker Faire also plans to feature several “spectacles,” said Puleo — including a large-scale, timed explosion of Mentos candies from Coke bottles by the makers who came up with the now well-known concept. More featured events will be listed on the faire website,

Maker Faires are licensed events created by San Francisco-based Maker Media, the publisher of Make magazine. The first of the faires took place in 2005 in San Mateo, California. A decade later, that faire was drawing more than 1,100 makers and 145,000 visitors — and maker faires had spread worldwide.

“There are literally hundreds happening right now,” said Heather Sabin, tourism coordinator for Monona Terrace and organizer of Madison’s first maker faire.

“I attended a Maker Faire organizers’ summit in January, and met people from France and China and the U.K.,” she said. “There are the two giant ones that everybody knows about in the Bay Area and in New York — and there are all these little ones cropping up all over the world now.”

Karin Wolf, arts program administrator for the City of Madison, brought the Maker Faire idea to the attention of Monona Terrace after attending a similar event in Kansas City. That faire, said Wolf, “was retro and futuristic at the same time.”

That seemed like a good fit for Madison, home to several makerspaces.

“Madison is a hub of innovation,” Wolf wrote in an email. “There is creative and inventive movement happening across many sectors from tech to food to the arts and it is all interconnected.”

Schroeder’s story is a good example of what makes a maker. He started out as a self-taught woodworker, and while helping out in the Paoli gallery of master furniture maker Richard Judd, met someone looking for custom wooden handles for Japanese knives.

That led to making wooden knife handles for three years. Which led the curious Schroeder, 37, to teach himself blacksmithing. Which led to the knives he now sells via Instagram and to chefs as far away as Australia and Singapore.

Schroeder hopes to connect soon with Madison chefs, too, through venues such as the Dane County Farmers’ Market and MadCity Bazaar.

“My dad is an upholsterer and my grandmother was a woodworker, so I’ve been around shops my whole life,” said Schroeder, who credits YouTube videos for a lot of his hands-on education.

Erin McWalter also plans to exhibit at the upcoming maker faire as part of Madison Traffic Garden, a group that uses gardening and plants to draw people together and get them talking.

Visitors will be able to pot a plant — and exchange ideas — at the Madison Traffic Garden/Project Kinect maker booth. They’ll also be invited to use the booth as a scenic backdrop for pictures to share on social media.

“Wisconsin — we’re agriculture,” said McWalter, 48 and also founder of the Hops Museum on Madison’s East Side. “A bunch of friends will have a bunch of geeky stuff there (at the maker faire) — so I thought, ‘Where’s the plant representation?””

McWalter has been to the Maker Faire in Detroit, and describes the experience as something “like Pinterest in person.”

“It’s fun to just click on stuff in Pinterest,” said McWalter, referring to the site where do-it-yourselfers exchange images and ideas.

“But when you go to a Maker Faire and actually get inspired and then act, all in the same little afternoon, well — that’s what it is.”


Leave a reply